Skulla Part Fifteen: Quest's End

Duke Skulla continues Hell Act V at clvl 83.

I picked up again from the Glacial Trail waypoint, and had to work through about half of the level to make it up to the Frozen Tundra staircase. This time the monsters rolled salamanders and wraiths again, but the final enemy type was now moon lord frenzytaurs. Those things were a real pain in the rear! They have such ridiculous health and damage that even the non-boss monsters could kill Skulla's minions at an unsustainable rate. Seriously, even a single moon lord by itself with all 18 skeletons attacking it would often kill two skeletal warriors before it dropped. The numbers on them are ridiculous. (Arreat Summit says that they have around 15k hit points and 75% physical damage resistance. No wonder Iron Maiden wasn't doing much!) Skulla found himself using Dim Vision against these enemies simply because it would stop them from using their Frenzy attack. That was the best way to keep the skeletons alive. The snakes and the wraiths barely even registered as threats down here, it was all about the frenzytaurs. Skulla's army fought its way through three bosses before making it out of this area, fortunately none of them frenzytaur bosses. There was a Might aura on one of the snake bosses, and that would have been terrifying on the moon lords.

The Frozen Tundra awaited on the other end of the tunnel upstairs. This area turned out to have melee saber cats returning from Act II, one of the many types of witches (blood temptresses), and more imps as the final monster type. That meant lots and lots of Dim Vision again, with the one exception of Iron Maiden against the kitties when they were the only foes present. Mostly though, this was another place where Dim Vision completely dominated all comers. The witches were tricky only because they were immune to poison, stopping my necromages from shutting down their regeneration. A witch boss near the beginning of the tundra forced Skulla to scrounge up some more skeletons back in Act I, in part because the game had cleaned up all of the corpses in the Frozen Tundra when I went back to town. There were more barricades and catapults to deal with, of course, but Skulla had plenty of practice in handling them by now. The fact of the matter was that nothing in this outdoor area presented much danger, and there was zero chance that Skulla was going to die here unless I made some kind of colossal error. I took my time and slowly eliminated everything that moved, including the six boss packs in the region. It simply wasn't that dangerous.

I also found a gem shrine in the tundra, and used it to upgrade a Flawless Ruby in stash to the Perfect version. That then went into the Spirit Shroud via the final socket quest, along with the final personalization for the same item. There was no point in saving these quest rewards any longer. Skulla was approaching the final stages of the game now, and the extra 38 life might mean the difference between success and failure. Look at how close the Nihlathak battle had been, after all.

The Frozen Tundra has the last of the three Act IV subdungeons in the form of the Infernal Pit, and there can be some dangerous stuff in this area sometimes. I remember that Skulla ran into oblivion knights and frenzytaurs and vampires on his pass through this little dungeon back in Nightmare, for example. Fortunately this time the Infernal Pit rolled a true dud in terms of scary opponents: salamanders and blood bosses (overseers) with their attendant minions. That was not worrisome in the least, not so long as Skulla stayed well back of the suicide minions when they exploded. I was able to cut loose with Iron Maiden here, and the monsters killed themselves with ease. I rarely needed to replace skeletons. It turned out to be a total slaughter, and Skulla's army proceeded up to the gold chest in rapid fashion. One of the easiest draws I've ever gotten in the Infernal Pit - I'll take it!

The Ancient's Way was next, and it served up afflicted (the lightning spitters from Act I), reanimated horde walking dead, and more frenzytaurs. That meant Dim Vision yet again, which would stop the projectiles from the afflicted, the charge attack from the reanimated horde, and the Frenzy attack from the minotaurs. Unlike the earlier short trip through the Glacial Trail, this time there were frenzytaur bosses lurking around, including the Cursed fellow pictured above. That was a truly terrifying moment, a boss that I could not hit with Dim Vision using his Frenzy move with Cursed affix in play. Fortunately I could still apply Iron Maiden, and the boss did himself in rather quickly, although he took out most of a skeleton army along the way. Nasty customer. There was another frenzytaur boss that was equally as dangerous in a different way: Spectral Hit/Extra Fast/LEB, with the juiced up speed and constant sparks wrecking havoc in their own right. The Ancient's Way is a large area to clear out completely, and this was slow going most of the way. Every single frenzytaur represented a major threat, and they took ages to kill with Dim Vision running. It was the safest option though, and if Skulla tried to go faster by using Iron Maiden or Lower Resist, I'd only be heading back to Act I to recruit more skeletons every other encounter. Dim Vision it had to be. This was a tough area, and I was glad when it was finally finished.

So that left the Icy Cellar, another one of Act V's worst deathtraps. Like the Drifter Cavern, this is a very cramped area that often has bosses galore and little room to retreat or fight safely. There was some immediate good news when Skulla entered: no swarm of enemies right on the stairs. That can happen very easily in the Cellar, let me tell you. Skulla caught another break a few seconds later, when he was able to catch a double boss pack across the water:

Extra Strong/Conviction aura/Teleportation on the salamander boss. There was another undead stygian doll boss over there as well, although I was never able to screenshot his traits. Skulla had a ready answer for these dangerous melee opponents: cast the fire golem repeatedly across the water, and then use Iron Maiden on all of the monsters. They obligingly smacked themselves to death over the next minute or two. There was a hairy moment for a second when the salamander boss used its Teleportation affix to leap across the water right into the middle of Skulla's army. Whoa! Was not expecting that. It was almost dead by that time though, and the necromages made short work of the thing. Clearing out these two bosses in total safety was a godsend, as they could have forced me back to the stairs and made the rest of the cellar extremely dicey to complete. Indeed, only a few steps to the north Skulla ran into an undead stygian doll champ pack. I would not have wanted to face off against them and the double bosses at once, no sirree. With a foothold secured, the rest of the Icy Cellar was as routine as it ever gets in that sardine can. The third monster turned out to be gloombats, which weren't particularly tough. (They would have been bad at the start of the level, since they can fly over the terrain obstacles, but they were easy once Skulla had retreat room to string out fights.)

Snapchip Shatter waited at the very end of the Icy Cellar by the gold chest. I was glad that Skulla hadn't encountered any of the frozen creepers as normal monsters, since they always shatter upon death and never leave a corpse behind to be used by a necromancer. Snapchip Shatter himself had a whole slew of boss traits, grabbing Extra Fast and LEB to go along with his always-present Cursed and CEB traits. We've got another Fangskin on our hands here! Maybe a slower version of Fangskin, since Snapchip Shatter wasn't very fast even with the extra speed. I tried a couple of different curses here, with the Cursed boss affix meaning that Iron Maiden ultimately won out. The saving grace for this battle was a pile of serpent corpses from a previous fight. I used them to keep summoning replacement skeletons throughout the engagement, and just as I was running out of bodies and current skeletons, the boss and his minions finally began to drop. It was a close run thing, another 15 seconds or so and the army would have been destroyed and Skulla would have needed to go find more recruits. Instead, it was a nice victory for Skulla and his crew. I was very happy to have the Icy Cellar out of the way.

This left the Ancients and the Worldstone Keep as the only remaining obstacles for Skulla. I had been planning to do the Ancients at the start of the next streaming session, but the viewers wanted to see the Ancients fight before I signed off. It was a smart request too: far better to do the Ancients at the end of a streaming session when I was fully practiced on Skulla, rather than at the beginning of a session when I was still warming up. I wasn't too terribly worried about the Ancients, since Iron Maiden works pretty well against them. As long as Skulla didn't get terrible boss affixes on the group, I was confident that he could do this. I prepped the Arreat Summit with way more red and blue potions than I would ever need, then hit the pedestal and got started.

The Ancients popped out and Skulla's army was immediately Cursed. That was a bad sign, and I probably should have left through a town portal right away to reset the fight. I was actually having trouble reading the boss traits; I was trying to find out what they were, and the Ancients kept moving around before I could get a good look. In the screenshot above, you can see how the white and gray background of this area makes reading the gray text extremely difficult. For example, I was not able to read that Korlic was CEB/Aura Enchanted above. At this point, I did not know which aura Korlic had drawn, or even that he had an aura in the first place. All I knew was that one of the Ancients had the Cursed affix. Skulla's minions were dropping pretty fast, but the Ancients were taking massive damage as well. Talic was nearly dead, and I still hadn't even seen his traits. It seemed like the battle was going reasonably well. Just a little more time, and Skulla would be down to a single opponent, at which time he could lock them up with the golem and let Iron Maiden do its work. Almost there now.

And then Skulla exploded and died and the quest was over. Just like that.

What?! What the hell just happened? Skulla had been on full health the entire fight. I was watching, and his health orb never dropped. That meant that he had been one-shotted by some kind of attack, from 1165 health down to zero in one go. Well I could maybe understand that, but I didn't see anything touch him. He was just... dead in an instant. Some kind of invisible projectile? None of the Ancients had even been near Skulla! What in the world was going on here?!?

To figure it out, I had to go back to the Livestream footage. There was an explanation, albeit one of the most absurd you'll ever see.

Madawc threw an axe with his Double Throw ability. The attack was literally invisible on the screen; I had to go back and slow it down to frame by frame in order to find the blasted thing. I've circled it in yellow above. Would you ever see the darned thing in a million years and be able to dodge in time? Keep in mind that's a fast moving attack too. It took about 0.5 seconds to move from the boss to Skulla in real time. Of course, it wouldn't have been a disaster if the axe hadn't done enough damage to kill Skulla in a single hit, and that's where the mistakes came in on my end. What I hadn't realized at the time was that Korlic was sporting a Might aura for one of his extra abilities. It too had been nearly impossible to see with all of the graphical effects in this battle, but that was indeed his aura. With a monster level of 87 on the Ancients, that Might aura was skill level 14, meaning it increased all of the physical damage on all three Ancients by 170%. And that was on top of the Cursed affix on Madawc, which also increased physical damage by 100%. Madawc's other ability was FEB, so he was even adding more fire damage on top of that for good measure. Cursed + Might aura was easily enough to one shot Skulla despite his 1165 max life total. The Double Throw applied its damage across two frames, which allowed me to see how much each axe did when I slowed down the footage. The first hit did 848 damage and then the second hit did another 848 damage. Eliminate the Cursed + Might combo, and those hits are doing 229 damage apiece for a total of about 460 damage. Nasty stuff, but nowhere near the instakill territory.

What that means is that I ultimately lost this due to my own mistakes. Yes, it was complete and utter bullshit that Skulla was one hit killed by an invisible projectile moving at warp speed. There was no way to see that axe incoming or dodge it in time, which is ridiculous and an example of atrocious game design. HOWEVER, Skulla lost his life here because I picked a poor fight to take on. Any time that the Ancients roll Cursed as a boss ability, that should be grounds for an instant reset of the fight. Do not take your chances, get out of there and try them again. Don't try to be a hero. Not only did I fail to reset the fight when Cursed showed up, I also failed to see that there was a Might aura in play. Skulla should have run screaming from this battle, the danger level was catastrophic. There was zero reason to take this on when I could have tried again and likely gotten some kind of Spectral Hit/Mana Burn nonsense combination instead. As I wrote in the previous section about Nihlathak, the successful execution of a Hardcore character is about managing the tiny details over and over again. I made a mistake on a small detail here, and the result was Skulla's own execution instead.

In the end, Skulla was not able to complete his quest, coming up just short. Dying at the entrance of the Worldstone Keep was frustrating, but not as frustrating as you might think. After the initial few moments of shock at Skulla's death, I wasn't nearly as upset as I expected to be. I thought that if I lost a character this close to completing the game, I'd be running around tearing out my hair and screaming, but I just didn't feel that way. I think it was partly the way in which Skulla was defeated, the sheer absurdity of the one hit kill from an invisible axe projectile. I was happy with how I played Skulla in this last fight, the one mistake was not resetting the battle instantly. That's all I could really hope for while playing. If I thought that I'd done my best tactically and still ended up dying, then I couldn't be too unhappy with the result. I even learned something about the Ancients battle for the future, the necessity of rerolling instantly if any of the following traits appeared: Cursed, Extra Strong, Might aura, or Fanaticism aura. That's how you get better over time, live and learn. Well, Skulla won't be living any more, but I will be!

I hope that you enjoyed reading about Skulla's quest, which spanned seven years and three different computers at times. If you would like to watch the final streaming session with Skulla's death at the end, the Livestream can be found here. Even if he didn't make it to three dots, I think it was still better to attempt the finish rather than remained parked endlessly in Act II. Life is about the journey, not the destination. We all have ticking doom clocks over our heads that will run out eventually! Better to try and achieve greatness than remain ever too timid to try. I still have one more shot at another Hardcore character, we'll see how Winnie can do next. With 3000+ life from Oak Sake, I'll have decent odds to make it. We shall see. Thanks again.

- Sullla, July 2014